The roots of the Bridges of Faith ministry go back to 1996. Rev. Tom Benz, then a Regional Director with the International Bible Society, saw the plight of orphans and street children in Eastern Europe. Gripped with the needs of the kids and armed with a vision to change lives, he led the formation of a ministry targeting the children and youth of Eastern Europe.
Since 1996, Tom has led the accomplishment of these objectives:
- Eighteen years of summer Bible camps for kids and VBS programs in remote villages. These short-term mission groups have ministered to over thirty-five thousand children, seeing more than 10,000 come to faith and life in Jesus.
- Tons and tons of humanitarian aid. This includes needed clothing, coats, shoes, heaters, blankets, medication, toys, and food.
- Medical assistance. From inhalers for asthmatic children, to prescription eye-glasses, to surgery, Bridges of Faith works to improve the health of children.
- Renovation and repair of existing facilities. Tom has led the repair of orphanages in Kerch, Evpatoria, Simferopol, Bakchaserai, and Sevastopol. He has helped to establish an interdenominational Christian outreaches for children in Vnookava and Kerch in Crimea.
- Training for national Christian children and youth workers. From community and regional seminars to ‘on the job’ training for Bible school students, Bridges of Faith has helped national Christians with a vision for children’s ministry, along with the principles and tools to make it a reality.
- Pastors’ retreats. A part of the work is to build relationships with pastors and to help them build relationships with others. We help to strengthen the ministry in Ukraine through training, encouragement and vision-casting among pastors.
- Planted, in cooperation with area churches, church bodies in seven villages which had no church of any kind.
- Over 50,000 pieces of Scripture. Through strategic partnerships, Tom has led the placement of age-appropriate Scriptures right in the hands of the children.
- Christmas gifts. Rev. Benz, in partnership with Samaritan’s Purse and a Ukrainian foundation, has helped to give over 12,000 Christmas gifts to orphans and needy children in Crimea. Each gift was given with a clear presentation of the Gospel.
- Established, in partnership with Operation Lazarus, a transitional home for orphans in Crimea.
- Purchasing, renovation and launching BridgeStone, a beautiful 140 acre retreat center in Central Alabama. With 34 buildings, including 22 cabins, a junior Olympic pool, 2 acre lake, and a gorgeous chapel, BridgeStone serves regional children, youth and adults, along with Ukrainian orphans.
- Three to four times each year since 2010, BOF brings groups of Ukrainian orphans to BridgeStone. They come for cultural exchange and a great, Christian camp experience. A clear majority of these children find forever homes.
Building on this history, Bridges of Faith prepares to, ever more aggressively, reach and disciple the orphans of Ukraine, demonstrating the Love of God in Word and Deed through camps and other outreaches in Ukraine, through transitional assistance for orphans as they transition from the orphanage to life, and through bringing children to BridgeStone.